Thursday, September 24, 2015

Collaborative Coaching

Instructional Coach Collaboration with Building Administrators, District Administrators,and other Teacher Leaders
(This is the fifth in a series of articles about our first year of TLC in Iowa)

Collaborating with Building Administrators
From the very beginning, our building administrators made a conscious and strategic effort to integrate us into our school’s leadership team.  As soon as we were hired as instructional coaches, they involved us right away in the interview process of model teachers and team leaders. Once the school year started, we met with our building administrators for 30 minutes every Monday to discuss strategies, goals, professional development needs, concerns,  trainings, etc. It was also during these meetings when administrators asked if we needed anything or if there were additional ways they could support us.

Our building administrators welcomed our position as an additional resource for our teachers as well as for themselves.  In our Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) model, instructional coaches have the opportunity to work with teachers in a non-evaluative capacity, which is one of the key distinctions between coaches and administrators.  

Since utilizing an instructional coach is completely voluntary and confidential at our district, we are not allowed to share specific information with administrators about our work with teachers.  We feel incredibly fortunate because our building principals have been very supportive and rarely ask anything about our specific work with teachers.  However, there have been a few times when we have had to kindly remind them that we can’t respond to the question they are asking.  What we can do is respond with general statements about the work we are doing and give an overall impression about building-wide successes, challenges, and needs our teachers are facing.  
  As full release instructional coaches, our time is 100% dedicated to assisting teachers in maximizing their effect on student learning. While this is also most likely the ultimate goal of building principals, they often wear many hats in a day and find themselves in high demand by parents, students, community members, and district administrators, which can easily impede their ability to be in the classroom and engage teachers in ongoing, personalized professional development.  For this reason, we have found that it is essential to maintain a good administrator-coach relationship so we can work together to meet the professional learning goals and needs of all of our teachers so they can, in turn, provide the best learning experience for our students.

Also, even though we formally meet with our administrators every Monday morning, we often find ourselves collaborating with them throughout the day as the need arises.  This ease of access is due to the fact that our instructional coach office is located within a wing of our main office, so we are in close proximity to all 5 of our building administrators’ offices and can easily “pop in” if we see they have a free minute and need to run something by them.  They can also easily catch us if they have a quick question or idea to throw our way.  While we sometimes feel that it would be better for us to be located somewhere out among the classrooms, we do enjoy being able to easily collaborate with our principals.  

Collaborating with Other Teacher Leaders and District Administrators
During our first year as instructional coaches, we also had the opportunity to collaborate with our 17 building team leaders representing all of the academic content departments and student services team.  On occasion, our principal would ask us to participate in discussions, present an idea, share data, or ask for feedback at one of the bi-weekly team leader meetings on Mondays at 3:30pm.  This served as yet another chance to get to know our fellow teacher leaders, be a part of collaborative decision-making processes, and brainstorm ideas with representatives from all areas of the school.  
In addition to our collaboration with building principals and team leaders, we also meet monthly with 2 of our district administrators, the 3 Curriculum and Professional Development leaders (CPDs) representing Math, Literacy, and STEAM, and all 15 of the district’s instructional and literacy coaches.  This 2-hour block of time has been set up as a safe place for instructional coaches and CPDs to have discussions about celebrations as well as concerns.  During these meetings, we discuss current successes, challenges, and frustrations, next steps moving forward, district information involving the TLC, and any additional updates, (while always working within the boundaries of our confidentiality agreement).  Here are some of the specific topics we discussed at these meetings during our first year of the TLC:
  • what our day to day activities involved
  • how we were documenting our work with teachers and tracking growth
  • coaching strategies that were successful in enrolling teachers into working with a coach
  • strategies for developing building-wide PD
  • strategies for working with teacher teams
  • ways to help teachers implement best practices in reading, math, and science
  • how project tunings connect with instructional coaching at our project-based middle school
  • reflections on practicing with the coaching tools (unit planning, lesson planning, analyzing student work, selective scripting, seating chart, etc.) that we received from our instructional coach training
  • how we were going to measure our impact as coaches at the end of Year 1 and get feedback from our teachers
We also paired up with an instructional coach from a different level and shadowed them for a half day to see what the role of coach was like in their building.  This gave us many insights into the similarities and differences in our role as instructional coach at the various grade levels and helped us better understand the unique needs and areas of focus for instructional coaching in each of our buildings.  

Now that we are in Year 2 of our TLC implementation, we have continued our weekly meetings with our building administration, our occasional collaboration with team leaders, and our monthly meetings with all of the district’s instructional coaches and CPDs.  We look forward to building upon the strong collaboration that was started during our first year as coaches to become even more effective in impacting our district’s and building’s student learning goals.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Make Your Passion Your Paycheck

Post by Matt Johnson: Matt is in his 5th year serving as a Paraeducator at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Matt on Twitter @BHSMattJohnson

Too many of my friends and acquaintances become very negative when the subject of their jobs come up. They are ready to talk about the drudgery of their commutes, how they feel underappreciated or how terribly their bosses treat them. If you were to look back into my life, that might have been a conversation we had years ago. Thanks in part to a dedicated and passionate educator I know, one I ultimately married, I made a choice that led me to a new career path that is positive, fulfilling and humbling. 
This year will be my fifth year working as a Educational Support Professional or Paraeducator. I share these hallways with 26 other amazing paraeducators. I can say with certainty that each of them is passionate about helping our students succeed. You'll find women and men both young and wise here. We have essential roles of reading tests, scribing, or even interpreting for those with hearing disabilities, and so much more.

My former life as a cubicle dweller left me unfulfilled and overwhelmed. However, when you spend the day with students, something amazing happens. In return for the variety of support we give students, they give us an enormous sense of purpose and pride. It's no coincidence that our mantra at Bettendorf Community Schools is "Passion, Purpose, Pride". Watch just one student reach their goals and you would feel it too. Do it day after day and those words resonate within you.
As paraeducators, we celebrate our victories loudly, but we are not without rough days too.  We can find ourselves discouraged and question our methods. We invest months and sometimes years on building rapport. When you experience a breakthrough that changes the dynamic toward the positive, you no longer question yourself, you go back to celebrating today's victory and move forward. We know great challenges are just around the next corner.  Our resolve in working for Bettendorf Schools gives us the experience, community and culture to overcome any obstacle.
All of our students need a strong support network to ensure their success. Our students with disabilities not only need support but also understanding and compassion. Despite a perception that they might be unable to do what other students do, they certainly can succeed in the right environment. That's what we're here for. I now have this amazing career where I watch struggling students become successes. 
These days you won't hear me complaining about my job. That's never really been who I am. You would be more likely to find me trying to wipe the smile off my face. That smile is from an enormous sense of pride and satisfaction in being given the opportunity to influence our youth here at Bettendorf High School. As it turns out, my background in marketing has come in useful; today I'm helping market the most important resource we have, our students!